Fact: Wine and laughter go hand in hand. Fact no. 2: When you’re aboard something called a “wine train,” you don’t expect to be shushed like you would in a library.

Eleven friends who are all a part of Antioch, CA’s ‘Sistahs on the Reading Edge’ book club were told to be quiet while on a Napa Valley Wine Train. They were then booted off the train and into the arms of police.

wine train police

All photos: Facebook/Lisa Renee Johnson

Here’s what the Napa Valley Wine Train originally told group leader Lisa Renee Johnson after she complained about how her group was treated, and asked for a formal apology:

napa wine train fb

These eleven women range in age from 39 to 85, and all but one are black. That’s why leader Lisa Renee Johnson believes they were really kicked off the train, and that’s why she started the #LaughingWhileBlack hashtag after the incident. Johnson’s Facebook posts about the incident created a media firestorm, and inspired petitions, social and traditional media coverage, and even a story on Good Morning America.

We are standing in the dirt and the train is leaving…

Posted by Lisa Renee Johnson on Saturday, 22 August 2015

Now Napa Wine Train CEO Tony Giaccio has issued a formal apology, according to Inside Bay Area. But is it too little, too late?

In a written statement, Giaccio said:

The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue. We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”

Giaccio also invited all book-club members back on the train, and said that the Facebook post above did not accurately reflect what happened. Johnson’s group wasn’t abusive, either verbally or physically. Giaccio said, “We quickly removed the inaccurate post, but the harm was done.”

In addition to the written statement, Giaccio phoned Johnson to personally apologize, but she says the damage has already been done. The book-club members have traveled to Napa annually for the past 17 years, but this was their first time on the Wine Train. Johnson said,

You can apologize, but you can’t take away the experience we had. We were still marched down the aisle of the train car to waiting police officers. I’m still traumatized by the whole experience. There are a lot of firsts in your lifetime, and those memories stick with us. Our first experience on that wine train is one that will live with us forever. I can’t see us going back on that train.”

This isn’t the first time the Napa Valley Wine Train has been accused of racial bias. In April, a Latina woman named Norma Ruiz was having a birthday on board with a party of 10 people when they were threatened with removal. Ruiz told Slate,


“We were kind of taken by surprise because we were just celebrating my birthday having normal conversation. We were not making noise, we felt very uncomfortable the way we were being approached and [they were] embarrassing our group in front of everyone.

I think it was just that person complaining and then the manager seeing that we were Latino, basically decided to discriminate [against] us because we were Latinos and [a big] group. Now that I hear about this event with a group of African American ladies being kicked out of the train, I’m seeing a pattern. I’m realizing that how I was treated was not normal.”


[via Inside Bay Area]